September 21, 2009

Uprooted from all he knew: the story of a teenage deportee re-adjusting to life in Guatemala

I met Eric at the Guatemalan Air Force Base about a month ago, shortly after he got off of the plane. It was apparent to me that he grown up in the US. His soft skin, urban gear, walk, mannerisms and demeanor gave him away as a US Latino. I approached him to ask if he was from Guatemala City. He told me he was. I asked Eric if he would give me his contact number so that I could call him in about a month to see how he was doing back in Guatemala.

Eric gave me the number, but told me he planned on going back to the US. So, if I didn’t find him at the number he gave me, I shouldn’t be surprised.

I called the number yesterday. A woman answered and gave me Eric’s cell phone number. I was able to reach him, and he remembered who I was. We agreed to meet up in Metro Norte in Zona 18, not too far from where he is staying. Zona 18 is one of the rougher neighborhoods in Guatemala City, but the Metro Norte where we met seemed to be a pretty secure place. It is a large shopping center, and we met in the Food Court.

Eric told me he had traveled to the United States when he was eleven years old, to join his mother, who had left three years before. He went on an airplane alone, with a tourist visa, as his mother was undocumented, and was not able to come for her son or to apply for an immigrant visa.

Once in the US, Eric went to middle school, and then high school in Inglewood, Los Angeles. He got mixed up with gangs for a while when he was in high school, but decided to quit after just a short time. In his last year of high school, Eric’s mother became ill. She hurt her back and was unable to continue working in the garment factory.

Eric had to drop out of school and get a job to support his mother. He had no trouble finding low-wage work, and worked two jobs. He met a Salvadoran girl, and they got married.

It had been one year that Eric had been out of school. He was 19 years old, and was working and living with his wife, who was expecting a baby. One evening, a friend of Erics’s asked him for a ride down the street. Eric dropped him off and was on his way.

Next thing he knew, the cops came. The police arrested Eric, as his friend tried to steal a car right after getting out of Eric’s car. He was charged as an accessory to the crime. Eric was sentenced to fifteen days in jail. When it was time for him to be released, the police handed him over to immigration agents.

Eric had overstayed his tourist visa for the past eight years, and was undocumented in the US. The immigration agents took Eric to a detention center.

Eric pleaded asylum, on the basis that there are many gangs in Guatemala that target young men such as himself. His asylum plea was denied, and five months later, Eric was deported to the country he left when he was eleven years old.

In Guatemala City, Eric’s aunt came to pick him up and he went to stay with her. Eric spoke with his wife, and they have decided that once the baby is born, she will apply for citizenship. She is currently a legal permanent resident, and soon will qualify for citizenship. Once she has her citizenship, she and the baby will come to live in Guatemala with Eric. They will apply for Eric to return to the United States as her husband. They hope that he will be granted an immigrant visa.

As Eric is waiting for his wife to come, he plans to begin working in Guatemala. Since he speaks English fluently, he was able to find a job at a call center. Call centers pay about Q3000 or Q4000 a month (US$400 to US$500) – enough for a small family to get by. But, not enough for Eric to have the lifestyle he had in the US with new clothes, a car, and all of the latest technology.

In order to begin working, however, Eric has to get his Guatemalan papers. The day we met up, he was working on getting his birth certificate. With that, he will be able to get his resident ID card.

Slowly, but surely, Eric is making a life for himself in Guatemala. Nevertheless, the moment he can, he plans to return to the United States. Back in the US, he plans to finish high school and go to college. Some day, he’d like to be an architect.

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